Barnett Banks' Charles Rice dies at 73
Charles E. Rice, who ran Jacksonville-based Barnett Banks Inc. for nearly 20 years during a tumultuous period of mergers and takeovers in banking, died Monday at his home in Boca Grande. Published reports say Rice suffered an accident in his swimming pool. He was 73.
Rice's banking legacy was his command of the last statewide banking company based in Florida. Barnett Banks enjoyed a strong corporate culture in which Barnett employees loved to say that they "bleed green" in keeping with Barnett's corporate color. The company, ranked No. 1 in market share in Florida, was ultimately purchased for $15.5-billion in 1998 by NationsBank, now known as Bank of America, in a deal cut between Rice and North Carolina banker and NationsBank CEO Hugh McColl. Surprising most of his employees, Rice opted to sell Barnett shortly after his return from a leave of absence for alcohol treatment. He received a severance package for selling Barnett of as much as $150-million, a startling sum at the time which earned Rice the nickname "the $100-million man" in banking circles and prompted bank CEOs in subsequent deals to be compensated in a similar fashion.
Rice was born in 1935 in Chattanooga, Tenn. He graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1958, and from Rollins College in Winter Park with an MBA in 1964. The college bookstore is now called the Charles Rice Family Bookstore, and the Diane Tauscher Rice Cafe is named after his wife. His first banking job was as a trainee at First National Bank of Orlando, now known as SunTrust Bank. He joined First National Bank of Winter Park as a vice president in 1965, but Barnett acquired that bank in 1966. A year later, he was appointed president of the Winter Park bank.
In 1971, Rice was appointed executive vice president of Barnett; 14 months later, he was promoted to president. By the time the bank was acquired by NationsBank, Rice was chief executive officer and chairman. Barnett's history is chronicled in a book published in 2001 called "Barnett: The Story of Florida's Bank." Many former Barnett bankers continue to work for financial institutions across the Tampa Bay area and the state.
I got to know and talk with Rice several times after I arrived in Florida in 1991 as the banking reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. He was typically austere and reserved. In a 1995 interview at a local Holiday Inn, Rice emphasized that the big banks that wanted to get into Florida -- a market Rice called the best banking market in the country -- had already arrived. He insisted at the time that Barnett was not for sale.
"And there are very few opportunities for others to arrive and amass a significant presence," he told me.
That mindset may also have doomed Barnett. By choosing not to expand into adjoining states, Barnett was quickly overwhelmed by bigger banks that had chosen to expand aggressively into many states.
Rice was an avid runner, a devout Catholic and a devoted family man. "He was a visionary," his son, Daniel Rice, told the Jacksonville Business Journal. "He was a wonderful, loving father."
At the time of his death, he was also chairman of Mayport Venture Partners, a Jacksonville-based investment fund. A gathering for family and friends will be at St. Mathews Catholic Church on Friday, Dec. 12 at 6 p.m., followed by a funeral mass at the same location the following day at 10 a.m. Interment will be at Oaklawn Cemetery.
(Photo of Charles Rice by Cherie Diez of the St. Petersburg Times.)
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist